Monday, December 05, 2011

Honor the giver by accepting the gift

Oh, how long it has been, dear reader! I’d begun to question my commitment to this process of self-examination. Maybe I’ve been busy. Maybe I’ve been pondering the esoteric, the metaphysical, the essence of being. Maybe I’ve been cooking turkey and pumpkin pie and working my butt off, literally. . .

Truthfully, I hadn’t felt inspired. I’d write down notes on ideas, but it wouldn’t get me going. It was boring stuff, inauthentic. And, I put a lot of pressure on myself with that last post. I gave you an assignment to start being conscious of your reactions and practicing letting them go. And then I promised the next step in the next blog. Yuck. That was my knee-jerk reaction. So, now I HAVE to write about samskaras some more and how to break out of them. Ugh. One of my well-worn paths is to resist the mandatory. I have to, huh? Well, you can’t make me! Thpptt!!

LOL! Yeah, I get like that sometimes. So, this morning I was thinking about gift giving and Christmas plans and logistics and resting in my Reeks-of-Dog rocking chair, surveying the Christmas decorations. And I thought about writing about gift-giving. You know, beyond the wrapped packages and iTunes gift cards. Giving of one’s self, giving by using your talents, blah blah blah. Good stuff, but again, not inspired.

And then I remembered a compliment my husband gave me a little while ago. He said he admired my ability to graciously accept compliments and gifts. I was a little perplexed and asked him to explain. “You make people feel good about giving to you. You know how to receive well.” Huh. My first instinct was to argue that I just said thank-you. No big deal. But, I paused before speaking (yay, me!).

I thought about it then, and I re-thought about it just now. I know I wasn’t always that way, but I have to admit he was right. A few years ago, I changed the way I accepted gifts and compliments because of my understanding of a line from the Sutta Nipata. The Buddha says, “Happiness never decreases by being shared.” I consciously chose to change a bit of programming I call the “I don’t deserve it” script and replace it with the "I am so grateful" script. And that's you're next step. Pick one thing, just one specific, non-productive or negative knee-jerk reaction and work to change it to something positive. You can't just erase it, tho'. You have to replace it with something new.

It doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, patience and practice, but I think I’ve got this one down. When someone offers me a compliment or a gift, I think about the happiness they’re passing on to me and gratefully embrace it, and sometimes the person, too. Now, I know not all gifts are given freely. There are sometimes strings attached, ulterior motives and even unsavory expectations. Some gifts do need to be declined; I acknowledge that. However, most times, we need to allow the other person to pass on a little bit of happiness.

I certainly understand how wonderful I felt sharing with others. How great it could be to find just the right gift for someone and see their face light up when they opened it. I also knew how disappointing it was to search high and low and find something wonderful, only to get the perfunctory “You shouldn’t have.” Eww.

I thought, at first, that I had failed somehow on the gift-giving test. Then, I thought that the gift wasn’t about me so I needed to not be concerned about how I felt when giving the gift. It was mighty selfish of me to want something in return when I gave a gift, even if it was just the happiness back that I was trying to share. But that still didn’t feel right. Somehow, I was missing the whole point of this gift-giving thing.

I’ve been taught to look at things from all possible angles, or as many as I could figure out. And always start with the easiest – the flip side. So I turned the problem upside down.

Receiving. Ah. That’s it. We all know how to give, but do we know how to receive? Most of us don’t. Think about it: out of a false sense of modesty, we are constantly negating the compliments people give us.

“Oh, it was nothing. Don’t even mention it.”

“You’re crazy! I just threw it together. No big deal.”

And some of us even go so far as to not use the gift certificates to the spa. Or worse, we re-gift the Target gift card either out-right or we use it to buy someone else something. We think we are doing the “right” thing, but we are really upsetting the “delicate balance of the cosmos”.

Okay, Melissa, what the heck are you talking about? Do do do do Do do do do (Twilight Zone theme plays in background)

Check this out. When you refuse to gracefully and gratefully acknowledge the compliment or use the gift you are blocking the flow of energy in the universe. You are refusing to be a part of the process of sharing the happiness. Sharing is about giving and receiving. Its not a one-way street. Read me out, here. Let’s say your friend went above and beyond and helped out when you were sick. She made a couple of meals for your family and brought some homemade chicken soup for you. What a sense of relief she brought you. You slept like a baby because you knew your family was cared for when you couldn’t care for them and you could cry you were so grateful. So, out of this place of gratitude and joy you write her a heart-felt thank-you note and give her a gift certificate for a facial.

What happens when she says, “Oh, it was nothing. Anybody would have done it. You shouldn’t have spent your money on me. Use it for yourself"?

At the very least, you’ll “push” the gift on her a little harder and maybe feel slightly frustrated that you have to convince your friend to accept it. Or worse, you’re feelings get hurt, because it meant something to you; the effort they made to ease your suffering. It wasn’t nothing it you. And, yes, you would do it for her AND that’s exactly why you know it wouldn’t be nothing. It would be a lot of effort and take time away from your own family and so on.

That sense of frustration or having to force the compliment on her is the love and joy and gratitude you are filled with hitting a wall when you let it flow outward. Blam! It hurts. We are meant to both give AND receive. It’s the way things work. And when someone doesn't graciously accept a gift, it creates imbalance and sucks the joy out of giving. Do you realize when we refuse the gift we are being selfish? A compliment or a thank you is a gift, too. When we negate the compliment, we are insulting the giver whether we mean to or not.

Yes, we are. Don’t bother denying it. When someone says, “Thank you so much for all your help with the Toys for Tots drive,” and we respond, “Oh, it was nothing. Don’t mention it" we are negating the gift and insulting the giver. Don’t feel too bad, though, because we are all taught that this is the proper way to receive a compliment, but it is not. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to you, it was a big deal to the giver. Maybe it wasn’t time-consuming for you or much of an effort, and yes, maybe you were happy to do it, but you need to accept the compliment with grace.

We owe it to the giver. Remember, we honor the giver by accepting the gift. And let me add, by accepting the gift with grace and gratitude, we share the happiness.

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